Menu

Back to Top

Learn

  • Tue, 11-19-2019 - 12:38pm — Anthony.Mantova

    (From DEERING) Learn How Banjos Work!

Articles

Learn

(From Deering Blog, Read it Here)

Buy Deering 4-string from Mantova's--Click here!

For a musician, the banjo offers acoustic power, super responsiveness to any kind of touch, brightness that can cut through the sound of an ensemble, warmth and richness to accompany voices and other instruments, and a tone character that is completely unique in the world of musical instruments. But how does all this happen?

THE VIBRATING MEMBRANE:

The thin, drum-like head of the banjo creates the “popping”, “snappy” sound of a banjo.  This “membrane” that is activated by the bridge and strings, responds quickly because of its thin, sensitive, easily responding nature.  A guitar sound board can be around an eighth of an inch thick, with spruce braces almost an inch tall and a bridge about one by six inches and almost three eighths of an inch thick.

A plastic banjo head is around twelve thousandths of an inch thick, stretched over an open 11 or 12 inch (depending on the model for most modern banjos) braceless expanse with a bridge that is about one eighth inch thick at the bottom, five eighths of an inch tall and only two and a half inches long.    Yes, there is more to the banjo than just the tight drum head and light, slender bridge, but this illustrates some of the mechanical differences between a guitar and a banjo.  Because the guitar top is so much thicker and braced to carry to the load of heavy guitar strings and banjos have a thin “membrane” that makes its “soundboard” or sounding member, the guitar is naturally softer and mellower than the snappy sparkle of a banjo.

The banjo’s “thin membrane” head, like an ear drum, is one secret to the expressive nature of a banjo.  The lightest touch of a finger on a string makes a beautiful, delicate, musical sound.  A strong attack on the strings makes a very powerful, driving tone that can be heard over long distances.  This kind of “dynamic response” is one of the most gratifying aspects of playing a banjo.   To be able to play very quietly and to play with great power is what every musician dreams about as the “perfect instrument.”

But what about the effect of all the “stuff” on a banjo like the tone ring, the tailpiece, the various flange designs, the effect of the neck wood and the adjustments like head tension, kind of head, etc.

THE RIM:

The rim of the banjo is the round, usually wooden, part that the head is stretched over. The world’s best banjos all have rims made with three plys or three layers of maple.  (Deering banjos use only the absolute finest violin maple their banjo rims)  The rim is THE heart of the banjo.

THE TONE RING:

A tone ring is a ring that placed on top of the rim and underneath the head of the banjo. It is usually made of a resonant metal such as bronze or brass, although some are made of wood such as the Deering John Hartford tone ring which is made from grenadillo wood. 

A properly made, correctly fitted tone ring expands the banjo’s tone character. A tone ring can increase the brightness and the bass response in a banjo’s tone.   The sound becomes “bigger” or “richer and fuller”.  When the banjo is properly constructed with a good tone ring, the tone actually becomes clearer; with more precise “edges” to the sound.  The correct fit of the tone ring means the rim and the tone ring vibrate as one, without either part stifling or restricting the other.  

Clear sounds project further.  Sounds with any lack of clarity do not project as well.  Some players say they want banjos that are “loud”.  What they really want is a banjo that is “clear”. Thus this instrument will project and cut through other instruments.

However, the tone ring is an enhancement to the wood rim.  A wood rim without a tone ring has a pronounced “mid-range” sound; not super bright, not super deep.  This sound is considered desirable for many styles of music.  Clawhammer players like this warm, mid-range sound, reminiscent of old recordings of early banjoists.

Fingerpicking banjoists tend to like banjos with fairly heavy, bell metal tone rings.  This enhanced bass and treble response helps make the banjo feel more responsive when just using fingers to strike the strings.  Clawhammer style uses more wrist and arm so the technique has more physical energy (from the bigger muscle groups used) so a softer sounding banjo can still be played with broad dynamics.

Tone ring or no tone ring is not better or best, just different.

Mantova's Two Street Music works hard to provide a selection of Deering Goodtime banjos for you to enjoy!

TONAL WOOD:

The wood used in the neck of the banjo definitely affects the tone or color of the banjo’s sound.  Mahogany is the softest of the hardwoods that is generally used in banjo building banjos and makes the sound warmer, softer, and sweeter.

Maple is a harder, denser wood which makes the banjo sound brighter and a little less bass.  The harder neck also increases the dynamic response, meaning that the banjo can be played very quietly or very loudly. 

Walnut is in between the mahogany and maple… brighter than mahogany but warmer or sweeter than maple. 

The harder and stiffer the neck, the brighter the banjo.  The softer the neck, the warmer and softer the sound. The softer neck absorbs some of the vibration of the string.  The harder neck absorbs less and transmits the vibration more to the bridge, head, rim, etc.

ADJUSTABLE TAILPIECE:  

An adjustable tailpiece on a banjo will make the banjo sound “sharper” or “snappier” when it is adjusted to apply more string pressure on the bridge.  When the adjustable tailpiece is adjusted to decrease the string pressure on the bridge, the banjo sounds mellower, or less snappy.  Again, just like tone ring or no tone ring, or choice of neck wood, adjustments are not better or best. They are just techniques for fine tuning the banjo to personal taste.

 

HEAD TENSION:

While we’ve written about the sounds of various banjo heads in other articles on our website (read here to find out), each kind of head still responds to several basic fundamentals.  The head that is extremely tight makes the banjo sound snappier or more crisp.  The head that is softer sounds a little plunkier or mellow with less sustain.  There is a happy medium for most players where the banjo has some crispness, good sustain, and with enough warmth to be pleasing. This is usually accomplished when the head is tuned to just around a G# although some modern players such as Bela Fleck keep their head a little looser at around an F# in order to achieve a more mellow tone.  This is another example of fine tuning the banjo to the player and not “the best” setting for everyone.

 

SUSTAIN:

Generally, banjos that weigh more or have more mass sustain their notes longer.  Even though the zinc flange of a resonator banjo is toneless or silent it still adds weight to a banjo and more weight usually mean the strings will vibrate longer.  This is a classic example that a heavier object in motion stays in motion longer than a lighter object when given the same energy.  If you push a ping pong ball with twenty pounds of force, it will stop rolling sooner than a bowling ball pushed with twenty pounds of force.  So, a lighter banjo will tend to sustain a bit less than a heavy banjo.  Not better or best, just different.

THE RESONATOR:

The resonator is a forward sound projector.  The sound can’t penetrate the resonator and is focused forward to the front of the player.   However, the resonator also encloses the rim of the banjo, so now the sound of the banjo has been changed by the sound being “enclosed” in a chamber, as opposed to an open back banjo which has no real enclosure other than your tummy.

Creating this “sound chamber” now has changed the character of the banjo sound.  A deep resonator has a slightly darker, more “hollow” sound.  A comparatively shallow resonator has less “hollowness” and the banjo’s response is quicker or more immediate.  Each depth creates a “resonant frequency” of that particular volume of space inside that banjo.  Putting a deeper resonator on a banjo that had a shallower resonator has a profound effect on the sound.

THE “SILENT” PARTS OF THE BANJO:

However, most other parts on the banjo need to be silent.  The tailpieces of some of the most famous historic banjos were made of pot metal to keep them from vibrating and interfering with the tone coming from the rim.  The armrest should be strong but made of a mild metal that doesn’t musically vibrate and compete with the tone.  The flange should be made of soft, un-musical metal so it doesn’t compete with the tone.  The resonator does vary in tonal effect by its depth and to a smaller extent by what wood is used on the outer veneers.   (Resonators are laminated for strength and stability so the outer veneer has a smaller effect on the tone. Solid wood resonators can be problematic and we won’t discuss them here.)

OVERVIEW:

The rim and tone ring are the heart of the banjo tone.  The neck is a “color added” contributor.  The resonator depth or the lack of a resonator entirely, changes the character of a banjo sound.  The bridge is a sound conductor that should be carved to the thickness and made of the material that transmits sound the way the player wants it.  The head when stretched to various tensions transmits the vibrations according to its tightness.

While this is not a scientific presentation, it is intended to show a basic idea of how the banjo works.  The rim vibrates, the neck compliments rim, the resonator (if used) enhances the rim and just about everything else needs to be as quiet as possible.

You have to be careful spending your hard-earned money.  Banjos with aluminum rims, soft wood rims covered in veneers, zinc tone rings, incorrectly fitted tone rings, all defy the basic understanding of how a banjo works and should be avoided.

 

  • Take advantage of some incredible deals with Mantova's this Cyber Monday!   Some of the biggest savings we have EVER offered!   BUY NOW, CLICK AWAY
  • Store Stuff
    Some of the Guitar Effects Discounts have applied early (Before Black Friday).  Must visit store to see the deals and bundles! For everything else, there is always our Reverb page!     
  • Banjo Top Notch selection
    (From Deering Blog, Read it Here) Buy Deering 4-string from Mantova's--Click here! For a musician, the banjo offers acoustic power, super responsiveness to any kind of touch, brightness that can cut through the sound of an ensemble, warmth and richness to accompany voices and other...
  • Product Comparisons
    Limited Edition Walrus Audio in Humboldt County
       BUY YOUR HALLOWEEN IRON HORSE HERE Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2 Halloween 2019 Limited Edition A nostalgic treat to add to your bag of tricks, this year’s limited edition Halloween Iron Horse is an awesome 50’s horror movie poster throwback illustrated by Adam Forster. Each...The Iron Horse V2 updates are as follows: Updated the Level control so that it is easier to dial in unity gain.  Updated the Tone control to allow more treble to be dialed in if desired.  Updated Distortion control to smooth out the range of distortion making it easier to...
  • Really excited to see Fender Tone Master amps start to roll in!  The best in solid state with voltage control in an amp that weighs WAY LESS than the tube cousins. Stop by the store and see!    --Anthony   Keep in mind we are always willing to discuss trades!
  • (From Larivee News Page)   CITES AMENDMENT FOR ROSEWOOD August 30, 2019   Many of our players are aware of the restrictions that were placed on Rosewood back in October 2016 through international treaty known as the CITES treaty...Mantova's Two Street Music is your source for all Larrivee Guitars!  We are constantly looking to add new models!  Hope to see you soon here in Old Town--Eureka
  • UPDATE: 10/16/19 Mantova's ordered some and they will be here soon!  Excited to see a new Big Muff reissue from Electro-Harmonix!  The Ram's Head is a highly sought collectible for its historical imprint on rock and roll!   Available soon at Mantova's Two Street...
  • Store Stuff
    (Handy article from the great vintage thinkers at GuitarHQ.com!  Really enjoy their content.  Find it here) --- Introduction. Sometimes there just isn't enough information on electric instruments and amps to allow them to be properely dated. And many people ask me to try and...
  • Product Comparisons
    We will only have one of each, and they are sure to sell fast! BUY NOW:  Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Octavio Mini Pedal JHW2  BUY NOW:  Dunlop JHW4 Jimi Hendrix Signature Band Of Gypsys Fuzz Mini Pedal BUY NOW:  Dunlop JHW3 Jimi Hendrix Signature...Jimi's Chorus and Vibrato Effect Part of the iconic Jimi Hendrix tone is the huge wash and texture that was heard all over the "Band of Gypsys" album. With the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Univibe Mini, that tone is closer than ever. This tiny little pedal perfectly re-creates the iconic rotary...Jimi's Mysterious Fuzz Tone During 1969 and 1970, Jimi Hendrix used a Fuzz Face distortion pedal that sounded different from any of his other Fuzz Faces. This red version of the Fuzz Face had a much more aggressive and biting tone than audiences had ever experienced before. The Jimi Hendrix Band...Authentic Hendrix Fuzz Tone Hendrix fans everywhere have been trying to replicate his legendary tones for decades. With the Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octavio Mini fuzz pedal, you can get his huge, snarling tone in a pedalboard-friendly size. A member of the ’69 Psych Series, the Octavio Mini updates...
  • Store Stuff
    Humboldt County has temporary access to the Deering Zombie Killer Banjo!
    (THIS ITEM HAS SOLD OUT!) [[{"fid":"1908","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Zombie Killer 2.0 Deering 5 String Banjo in Eureka CA","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"The infamous Zombie Killer 2.0 Deering 5...
  • Product Reviews
    (FROM DUNLOP) How much thought do you put into which strings you choose? Strings are like tires. The rubber meets the road, your fingers meet the strings. It's all about that first point of contact. Having the baddest ride on the planet counts for nothing if you don't have good tires....
  • Product Reviews
    In Humboldt County, you get your Walrus Audio from Mantova's Two Street Music
    Just in time for summer!  Get the best selling Walrus Audio pedals from Mantova's Two Street Music Buy the Slo Reverb here   [[{"fid":"1903","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","alignment":"","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Walrus Texture Reverb, the...From Walrus: The Slö Multi Texture Reverb allows players to create lush, modulated, sleepy and ambient soundscapes. Stocked with three different algorithms specifically designed to invoke textures for bringing dreams from your subconscious to reality. The toggle switch allows three different...
  • Store Stuff
    A Flame Maple Top 6 String Acoustic Electric Guitar
    From the Fender Blog, You Can Read Original Post Here (article written by Dan Macy) Fret buzz is a common problem with guitars. It’s caused when a string vibrates against a fret on the neck (instead of over it), making an annoying buzzing sound. Here are five reasons why your strings...Mantova's has trained Guitar Technicians on location ready to help.  They work every day of the week, so if you need to get serious about taking care of your guitar.  Stop and see Mantova's Two Street Music on 2nd and C Streets--Eureka
  • Product Reviews
    Go Wireless with the BOSS Katana-Air (From Boss Blog) If you’re a serious guitarist who likes to play with lots of effects, you know how inspiring it is to plug into your big pedal board and amp rig and let ‘er rip. But when you just want to practice at home, setting up and tearing down all...Roland and Boss products are available in Humboldt County at Mantova's Two Street Music, your Roland and Boss Dealer! 
  • TIPS ON LEARNING BANJO TUNES - BREAKING THEM INTO PARTS - Written by by Aaron De La Rosa (From the DEERING BLOG, you can read original content here) As a teacher, I sometimes come across frustrated students and get asked “How do I learn new banjo songs? While this sounds like a very...Mantova's Two Street Music is your source for all things Banjo, including Banjos, Books and fingerpicks
  • Store Stuff
    The topic of maintaining a pedalboard is typically not something you think about when getting your brand new rig dialed in.  Mantova's really likes this demo video on how to get the most out of your pedalboard. WARNING:  This video is best suited for DIY (Do It Yourself) types that...A wide variety of guitar pedals and maintenance products are available at Mantova's Two Street Music, your musical source in Humboldt County--CA
  • Product Reviews
    (You can read original post here) Tray Wellington runs through some of the right hand roll patterns that make up the foundation for playing the banjo in the style of Earl Scruggs. Something that made Earl's style so unique for the time was the amount of drive he got, and the way he achieved that...Mantova's Two Street Music is proud to be your source for all things Deering!  We typically carry Goodtime banjos and even some Artisan Goodtimes
  • You can see the company specs here You can BUY the PRS Silver Sky here “It’s been a dream of mine for years to design a guitar that includes some of my favorite vintage specifications but with a modern spirit and aesthetic. After two years of study and refinement, the Silver Sky is my vision...
  • Store Stuff
    PRS Guitars Opens New Dedicated Manufacturing Facility Overseas  (STEVENSVILLE, MD) July 25, 2019 – PRS Guitars is pleased to announce the opening of a new guitar manufacturing facility in Surabaya, Indonesia for their popular line of PRS SE Series instruments. The facility, which is...

Pages